Special tips and concerns for parenting twins: A guide for parents

Parents of twins face unique joys and challenges when raising their multiple children.

“Double trouble”? “You must have your hands full”? Parents of twins hear these phrases every day. But parents of twins know that two of a kind can bring a unique joy to the parenting experience.

From the moment twins are born, their parents have a challenge on their hands. Sometimes unexpected, usually high-risk, a twin pregnancy can be a source of concern right from the beginning. Twins have a greater than average chance of being born prematurely and of the mother delivering through caesarean section. Mothers are frequently assigned to bedrest to stop premature labor. For a support group for mothers on bedrest, contact Sidelines. Some twins will need to spend some time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) until they are ready to go home. Sometimes one twin does not survive. The organization CLIMB (Center for Loss in Multiple Birth) has resources to help parents during this awful time.

When they arrive home, parents and other caregivers know that twins are especially exhausting at the beginning, so every effort is made to get the babies on the same sleep and feeding schedule. Some strategies breastfeeding mothers have found are nursing both at the same time or pumping one breast while feeding a baby at the other. Breastfeeding pillows, including some extra large designs just for twins, help hold the babies in position and protect a potentially sore caesarean incision area. Couples who thought they would be having a “family bed” might change their plans when the realities of two squirming children intrude. Whether the children have to sleep in separate rooms when learning to sleep by themselves depends on how sound a sleeper each one is. Some parents have separated the two for that short time – perhaps putting on in a portable crib in their room while the other one has the nursery. Parenting twins is a perfect opportunity for Dad to help – one baby will always be available for feeding, changing, or play. For more information and support from other parents of twins, the TWINS-L list is a low-volume discussion forum for parenting topics, including how to help your marriage survive the demands of raising two babies.
Double the babies does not necessarily mean twice the equipment. Some babies will demand their own cribs early on, some find sleeping together is a great source of comfort. Some things will have to be doubled – diapers, high chairs, and bibs, but not changing tables, toys, or bottles. A twin stroller is a necessity, as well as two car seats. It’s a rare parent that can manage two babies in a front pack or sling — you might want to borrow the equipment and try it before you buy. Many companies have programs available just for twins. For example, Enfamil will send a case of formula per baby if your doctor requests it from the company’s representative. It’s always worthwhile to ask if your favorite formula, baby equipment, toy store has a “multiple birth program.”

Twins bring a special joy from the moment parents realize they can name two babies. Usually the babies will not notice each other at first, but some parents say their children are calmed by each other’s presence. When they become toddlers, the children play together and learn earlier than most about sharing, taking turns, and waiting until their parent is ready for them. Some studies have shown that language development in twins can be delayed because the children develop a special language to communicate with each other, but long-term, twins are no more or less likely to have physical or language delays than other children their age.

Parents of identical twins develop strategies to differentiate their children right from the beginning, including leaving their hospital tags on for several weeks or painting one twin’s toe with nail polish. Passionate discussions arise about the “rightness” of dressing identical children in matching outfits or giving them similar names. An equally sensitive topic is genetic testing for same sex twins to confirm at the children are or are not identical.

College planning might begin earlier for twins than for other children. When children enter school, some districts have a policy of separating twins into different classes, while some make it a point to leave them together. Most experts say that parents know their children best and should try to have the school do what’s best for the child. Some children are competitive when placed together, some would worry if they couldn’t see what their sibling was doing.

Some situations parents of twins might face are what to do if one twin is invited to a party and the other one is not. Solutions include making sure the parents of the birthday child know that one of the invitees is a twin and if only one child is definitely invited, ask the other twin to help plan the perfect day that they will do instead. Sometimes the one that was asked to the party will envy the one that was left behind!

Mostly, twin parenting is an especially concentrated form of multiple child parenting. The same sibling rivalries, fairness, and resource-sharing apply to all families. The best thing about having twins is the marvelous interaction of these entwined children. Enjoy your twins!

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